On December 19, hundreds of San Jose State University graduates crossed the stage at the Event Center at SJSU to accept their degrees. Among those celebrating, a young woman in her cap and gown sat, quiet and contemplative, on the cold cement. The Mercury News photographer Randy Vazquez, ’15 Journalism, tweeted a photograph of Tania Soto, ’18 Child and Adolescent Development, that included the phrase she’d written across her cap: “They Migrated So I Graduated.” The tweet quickly went viral, begging the question: Who is Tania Soto and what is the story of her cap?
Soto says that her cap is dedicated to her parents, who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to provide a better life for her and her brother. When she was in third grade, her father confided that he’d only been able to attend school through second grade—her mother through third—because he had to help support his family. Motivated by her parents’ sacrifices, Soto resolved to pursue a college degree and create the life her family envisioned for her.
“My parents had to work jobs that no person with an education would do, because it’s hard work,” she says. “They had to live with other family members, because rent was too high and the income was too low. I wanted to show my dad and mom that their sacrifices weren’t being thrown away. They were the ones who motivated me and gave me strength every time I felt like dropping out. I am where I am today thanks to them.”
“While her husband and mother were there to celebrate her achievement, Soto was heartbroken to learn that her father couldn’t get off work. She says that crossing the stage, accepting her diploma and shaking President Mary Papazian’s hand was her father’s moment as much as it was hers. Still, she savored the experience.
“I had been waiting for this moment for six years and to finally be able to walk across the stage was so surreal that I just wanted to cry and scream with happiness,” she says. “This accomplishment represents hard work. It taught me that any goal is reachable, no matter the obstacles that come to you.”
As I was covering .@SJSU fall commencement today I photographed Tania Soto sitting by herself. This was odd because most of her classmates were chatting and taking pictures. Not her, she was sitting in deep thought. I later took a picture of the back of her cap that read pic.twitter.com/bpU53w9nCS
— Randy Vazquez (@RandyVMedia) December 19, 2018
When she spotted Vazquez’s tweet, Soto was surprised and humbled by its response. Her belief in the impact of education is echoed in her work at an infant toddler center in Palo Alto. She plans to use her experience, coupled with her expertise in child development, to inspire kids to plan for college.
“I want to work with children and families in the community where I grew up,” says Soto. “Many of the families and children in my community do not have aspirations of obtaining higher education, and I want to change that. I want to make sure children learn about college and all the resources available.”
Perhaps some of Soto’s future students will one day follow in her footsteps, crossing the stage at the Event Center at SJSU, becoming Spartan graduates themselves.
More than 4,000 San Jose State University students graduated in December 2018, joining a community of 270,000 Spartan alumni.